The romance and history of the railroad has been stuff of legends for years. Trains, with their huge engines, powering their way across the Midwest and the Western states in the mid-19th century were a major factor in the expansion of the United States, as well as western settlement. People could get to places much faster than before and, as a result, could even travel to locations they otherwise would not have otherwise visited.
My friend Scott is a railroad historian with forty, plus, books to his credit. In most of these volumes he expounds the benefits and genius of the railroad and the many profits that it brought to America.
When the Dayton & Michigan line reached Troy in the 1850’s, it was an incredible step forward in travel and commerce.
Aside from Scott’s histories, most of us have probably read books or watched movies loosely based on history in which people travelling by train were robbed, kidnapped or derailed in some manner. Sometimes, as in the old television series, Wild Wild West, the heroes were afforded the benefit of railroad travel that helped them to save the day.
In reality, although a great triumph of engineering and commerce, the railroad was mundane and unexciting for most people. Individually, many men found their fortune with the railroad, but scores of others lost their lives. I would like to take a moment to relate a couple stories of Troy families which found both triumph and tragedy on the railroad.
Jeff N. Miller, was not a native of Troy, but he did grow up here and attended schools in this city. As a young man just out of school, Miller became involved in the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad as a telegraph operator in their Troy office. In succeeding years, he moved to various positions and mastered them as he worked his way up the corporate ladder. Mr. Miller held many positions throughout his career but, eventually, he became the president of the Rio Grande Railroad, as well as vice-president and general manager of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad. He and his wife, young lady from Troy, were able to live a very comfortable life as a result of his hard work and determination. But where he found success, others found sorrow.
In regard to the railroad, Sarah Bower of Troy experienced tragedy and sadness. Sarah, a Troy girl, who was just a few years older than Jeff Miller, married Freeman Cecil when she about 19 years old. They had just started their family, but within two years of their marriage, she became a single mother because when her husband contracted tuberculosis and died.
Sarah’s son Horace, like many men of the late 19th century, moved around from occupation to occupation until they found one which suited their skills, or one in which they could make a decent living.
While Horace was growing up, Sarah met a widower named Michael McCarthy. They courted for a time and were married in in 1892. Michael worked on the railroad in Dayton, as did Michael’s son. Things seemed be good and life was enjoyable again for Sarah McCarthy. But, then tragedy struck.
In the latter part of the decade, both Michael and his son became victims of a railroad accident, which left Sarah a widow once again.
It is not known if Horace decided to become involved in the railroad through his step-father, or, perhaps it was his familiarity with Jeff Miller’s story. Miller’s wife, Nellie, was a niece of Horace’s Aunt Mattie’s husband. Perhaps the dream of wealth attracted him. Whatever the case, it must have given Sarah concern for her only child, especially after Michael’s death.
Horace eventually found love, so he and Mary Schuman, a young lady from Covington, were married in 1907 and began their life together. Along with his work, Horace had been living in Xenia for several years, but then he and Mary relocated to Dayton to be near the rail yards.
Almost a year after their marriage, tragedy struck again when Horace, now 32 years old, was killed in an accident in the Dayton railroad yards. The funeral at Riverside Cemetery was attended by many people from Troy, Dayton and the surrounding area.
Sarah, already a widow, had lost her son. She still visited with her sister and her family as the years rolled by, but she never married again.
Life was full of twists and turns years ago … where one branch of a family found triumph and fortune, another only found tragedy and sorrow.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org